Squid Walk Us Through O Monolith Track By Track

Music Features Squid
Squid Walk Us Through O Monolith Track By Track

Two years ago, English post-punk quintet Squid took the world by storm with Bright Green Field, their big, dystopian, guttural debut record. Ollie Judge, Louis Borlase, Arthur Leadbetter, Laurie Nankivell and Anton Pearson are one of the most-uncompromising and level-headed acts around, and their follow-up—O Monolith—is a grand, meticulous achievement of iconoclastic funk, doomsday amalgams and charismatic, glossy noise.

Full of adrenaline, haunted murmurs and trumpets blazing into Dadaist entropies and punk poetics, O Monolith cements Squid’s magnitude. To celebrate the album’s release, we caught up with drummer/vocalist Ollie Judge and guitarist/bassist/vocalist Louis Borlase and got the history behind all eight tracks. Listen to the LP as you read along, and catch them on tour this summer.

“Swing (In a Dream)”
Ollie Judge: We started writing this one the day after we got back from Green Man festival in 2021. We played a secret set on the Sunday and arrived there on the Thursday, so we were feeling quite fragile the following Monday in the writing room. Initially I really didn’t like the track, but that’s the beautiful thing about being in Squid, you’ve just got to trust that something you might not be that keen on to start with will end up being something you all collectively love. The track is about a dream I had, I was in the painting “The Swing” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, I looked down at my phone as it ran out of battery and my phone charger fell into some water, then I realised the whole scene was flooding. The lyric “And all they’ll do is scream” is a pretty dark one, I was imagining what the future will look like as the climate totally annihilates everything. It brought to mind the dream scene in Terminator 2 where Sarah Connor is in the playground and the nuke destroys everything. It’s basically a climate crisis anxiety song, which feels extra weighty as I’m currently looking at news about the wildfire smoke from Canada drifting down to New York.

“Devil’s Den”
Louis Borlase: In Summer 2021 we briefly rented a tiny studio space in Bristol, behind Stokes Croft. It wasn’t very soundproof and we got told off and ended up moving out. Devil’s Den started as an idea for two guitars called “Nines.” It ended up becoming the track that made us understand how Woodwind could help shape the album. We were writing the extra parts a couple of weeks before recording at Real World whilst doing the mammoth drive from Montréal through upstate New York.

Judge: I initially wanted to write this song about another dream I had. The dream was set in an alternate universe where emails were stored in plastic bags underneath peoples desks at work. I don’t know why I didn’t pursue that, It sounds interesting. Anyway… this was around the time that my parents were leaving the UK and moving to another country. I grew up in a town called Chippenham in Wiltshire, and I was feeling like I needed to write something about the place I grew up in. The Devil’s Den is the entrance to a burial chamber in Marlborough. There’s a folk tale that people used to put water in the hollows of the stone and the devil would come drink it in the night.

“Siphon Song”
Borlase: This one is about seeing buildings on a screen on fire, the internet and compassion fatigue in an age of 24 hour news. Could it be the weirdest track on [O Monolith]? There’s a bit at the end where we used a drone machine of Dan’s which required 5 hands to slowly pitch each Oscillator to the chord that the choir were singing at the end. I think it’s fair to say we are all inspired by Laurie Anderson, I was stoked for a track with a vocoder and choir. It took me ages to try and create the THX style choral glissando you hear at the beginning. I reckon It’s gonna be fun to do this live.

“Undergrowth”
Borlase: The first track we started writing post the release of [Bright Green Field] in 2021. The track took a few little twists and turns before writing including a guest freestyle from Chicago legend Sharkula when we were last doing a tour of the states.

Judge: This tune is inspired by the episode of Twin Peaks where Josie Packard’s spirit goes into a doorknob in the Great Northern Hotel. Shout out to all you Peak-Heads out there… Does her spirit still live in the Great Northern? The high pitch whistle you hear in The Return indicates so! I guess it’s about my fear of what happens after you die, but explored in the playful scenario of being reincarnated as a high quality oak chest of drawers. Like Louis said, this was the first tune we wrote, and I really wanted to continue down a kind of funk/trip-hop route for the whole record, but the monolith took us elsewhere.

“The Blades”
Borlase: This one started as a live breaks jam, Ollie chopping away to Laurie’s beat on the Digitakt drum machine. When we pulled back the electronics at one point to loop the idea we’d reached, we realized it could be far more all-encompassing a track and became one of the longest on the album. A tryptic!!

Judge: I’ve said before, but this is my favorite tune we’ve ever written. It’s an amalgamation of past, present and future Squid all in one. It went through so many different iterations and I’m glad it ended up like this. It started as a kind of choppy Battles-esque song with no lyrics, to a kind of Arthur Russel-ish, 10-minute, soft funk ballad. We’re super happy with the video for it, featuring an amazing actor called Charlotte Richie.

“After The Flash”
Borlase: This one went by the name “Rochdale” for ages because we started writing it at a great studio there called Voltalab. We had the intention of stopping and writing in several of the stops on our Fieldworks Tour of new music in 2021, and ended up coming back to the studio the following year to continue working on the song. There’s a demo of it somewhere where it gets heavier and features Tortoise-esque marimba, but we can’t remember where we put it…

Judge: I’d love to hear the marimba demo of this. I remember it sounding incredible. Maybe one for the 10th Anniversary, glow-in-the-dark, grass-scented LP reissue.

“Green Light”
Borlase: There’s always a track we write and get excited about at the last minute before going in the studio. For O Monolith, it was “Green Light.” Were we starting to feel a tad proggy because we knew we were going to Real World [Studios]? Possibly. A highlight of the album for me is the Van Morrison moment of Woodwind glissando in the middle of the tune.

Judge: I agree with Louis here. The woodwind part in the middle of the song is the best part of the album hands down. I love it when artists put one amazing bit in a song but only for about 20 seconds, it makes going back to that song a little bit more special.

“If You Had Seen the Bull’s Swimming Attempts You Would Have Stayed Away”
Borlase: This was another one started in Bristol in the middle of Winter. Inspired by the Romans’ introduction of new Rats to Britain, the rhythmic tick of a car indicator, and executed by the amazingly versatile voices of Shards.

Judge: This one was a bit of a behemoth to write. There’s about five different time signatures in it and it’s probably the most packed-to-the-brim tune we’ve ever written. At one point in the song it basically becomes an ensemble of about 14 people… Us, choir and two percussionists. It’s one of those songs that if you think too hard about it, it’ll start to make less sense. You just gotta let goooooo maaaannnnn.

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